Rare are the moments in life when you’re suddenly and painfully jerked out of your reality and forced to recognize your own deeply ingrained ignorance.
I recently had such a moment. It was the moment I realized my default behavior – something so incredibly, deeply ingrained in me that it’s instinctive – is to blame myself for the actions of others; otherwise known as ‘blaming a victim.’
The event itself shook me to the core, and has continued to shake me… so much so that I haven’t told anyone I know until now.. but it also forced me to reexamine the other times I’ve blamed a victim, or accepted answers that are unacceptable.
So here’s what happened that woke me up:
I was leaving work to head to therapy exactly one week after the election. Now, I have nothing on my car that would indicate who I voted for, but if you look closely enough I’m sure you could figure it out. One sticker says “Asheville is my Om,” and another is the rainbow colored “#KeepDancingOrlando.” My license plate frame says “Coexist” in all the religious symbols, but besides clearly being a hippie, my car is politically agnostic.
In the turn lane next to me there was a white scion box-style car. A (Latino looking?) guy was driving it, and he had covered it in Trump stickers. There were at least six Trump Pence stickers on the back, two on each side, and a lot of big blue stickers referencing the greatness of God.
I saw him, I rolled my eyes, I shook my head. I have tinted windows, I was a car length back, and he wasn’t looking in my direction.
The light turned green and he sped around from my left-hand side to the far right lane and jerked into my middle lane at the next red light. Basically, not only was his car obnoxiously stickered but he drove like an asshole.
So I did what I would normally do in such a situation when someone drives like an asshole and puts my safety at risk – I threw my hands up in the air like “what the fuck, c’mon man” and shook my head a couple of times. That’s it.
When the light turned green I got into the far left and passed him. That’s when he rolled down his window, stuck his arm out, and flicked me off.
Flicked me off.
For… shaking my head and putting my hands in the air…? I didn’t honk at him. I didn’t flick him off. I didn’t really do… anything. What the hell, man?
So I gave him the bird right back and continued my drive.
I realize now that this guy was looking for a fight. He was looking for *any* sign of displeasure with his vehicle – and the statement he was making with his vehicle – or with his aggressive driving.
My hands in the air, my returned bird, was what he was looking for.
So he started following me, aggressively. I moved right to allow him to pass and he got next to me and slowed way, way down… trying to get me back in front of him, to follow again, I can only assume.
I didn’t want that so I came to a complete stop – in the middle of the road – and so did he.
Then he rolled down his window and started screaming at me that I’m a loser, on a losing team, to go fuck myself. He started making jerk off motions with his hand and laughing. He took his other hand and made like he was grabbing my pussy and fingering it. He laughed and did this down a short bit of road and while we were stopped at a light.
I was petrified and honestly thought he was going to pull out a gun at any moment. I didn’t know who to call so I just put my phone next to my ear and pretended to be on a call, not looking at him.
So he honked, continued with the jerk-off motions, laughing and yelling at me. Finally the light turned green and he made an illegal U-Turn in a non-turn lane to go the way he was probably originally intending to go, and finally leave me alone.
I made it to my therapist safely… shaking the entire time… and I didn’t tell her about it.
I came home that night and didn’t tell Vince about it.
I went to work and everyone was asking me how I was doing and I said I was fine, and didn’t tell anyone there about it…. even though this guy must work / live near my office and is dangerous and I might want to warn my coworkers.
You see, I felt responsible. I blamed myself for throwing my hands in the air, for flicking him off in return. I was ashamed of exhibiting any displeasure with this guy. I shouldn’t have made any expression. I should have known better. I should have just kept my hands on the wheel and gone about my drive.
But fuck that.
That engagement, that harassment, that foul and disgusting behavior from that horrible human was NOT MY FAULT.
I will take responsibility to responding to his foulness in kind – with a reciprocal bird – but I will NOT take responsibility for initiating the exchange or for what followed.
I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything to INVITE that man’s horrible, disgusting behavior. To think my “hands in the air” response at being cut off was an invitation for what followed is similar to thinking a woman wearing a tight dress is inviting rape.
And so I have to ask myself a few questions:
- Could I have avoided the situation? Maybe… but who knows if this guy would have taken offense to something else.
- Could I have predicted his behavior based on his aggressive driving? Probably. The guy made it clear he was a dick.
- Was I wrong for throwing my hands up in the air to signal “hey dude that was a dick move?” No.
- Would I do it all over again knowing that the guy would put my life at risk with dangerous driving while insulting me and making lewd gestures? A part of me is like “God no!” and another part of me is “You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t do anything to warrant dangerous and disgusting behavior.”
So yes, I think I would do it again and I will do it again – I will continue to throw my hands up in frustration when someone risks my safety with their dick driving. I will not live in fear. And I will continue to signal to assholes – in small, non-confrontational, and fair ways – that their actions impact others around them.
This is not the first time I’ve taken credit for something that was done to me and hidden it away – ashamed and embarrassed and feeling like one innocuous action on my part justified what followed. This roadrage incident caused me to do some serious reflection on past events and, ultimately, acknowledge where I blamed myself and took responsibility for someone else’s actions when I shouldn’t have.
So no, this isn’t the first time I’ve blamed myself for someone else’s actions. But I will actively try to make it my last.